Oceans of water frozen in Mars.

Science, technology, and life.
March 16 2007 10:05 AM

Cold Comfort

Oceans of water frozen in Mars.

(For the latest columns on pain weapons, dieting, and naked body scanners, click here.)

Mars has enough water to cover its surface, according to radar measurements from an orbiter. The water, enough to coat the planet to a depth of 36 feet, is locked in ice at its south pole. Early data suggest its north pole may have just as much ice. Rosy view: Maybe we'll find life at the Martian poles. Skeptical view: Data from the same orbiter indicate Mars "is as dead inside as it appears on the outside." (For previous updates on life, water, and global warming on Mars, click here, here, and here.)

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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Fantasy sports are developing a real adjudication system. The sports are a hybrid of real player stats combined in fake teams. Several Web sites now offer to settle disputes over draft picks, trades, and other roster moves for real, through small, fees ($6 to $10). Rationales: 1) Fantasy sports have become a real, $1 billion business, with money at stake in its disputes. 2) It's supposed to mirror real sports, and real sports have legal arbitration. 3) Fantasy leagues have developed constitutions, so somebody has to be authorized to interpret them. 4) Participants have conflicts of interest, so it's better to authorize outsiders. 5) You don't have to get a real law degree to be a fantasy sports adjudicator—yet. (For previous updates on virtual sex, virtual terrorism, virtual offices, and real money, click here, here, here, and here. For Human Nature's take on prosecuting cybersex, click here.)

The FDA confirmed that sleeping pills can cause sleep-driving, sleep-eating, sleep-sex, and other nocturnal disorders. Reports include phoning people, painting, and buying things online while asleep. The agency wants clearer warning labels about these risks. Sleeping-pill industry spin: Such side effects are relatively rare. Rebuttal: Yeah, but when you spend $1 billion on ads to sell $44 billion in sleeping-pill prescriptions, relatively rare becomes pretty common. (For previous updates on sleep-driving, sleep-eating, and sleep-sex, click here, here, here, here, and here.)

A clinic is advertising fertility services for gay men. The package includes eggs, legal services, psychological counseling, and gay-friendly surrogate mothers. Clinic's pitch: 1) We help gay men circumvent bigoted laws that complicate their marital status and bar them from adopting kids. 2) We help them avoid bigoted or ignorant surrogates who refuse to carry pregnancies for gay couples. 3) Everyone has a right to biological children. Bonus report: "Three-quarters of gay couples pay extra to choose the sex of their baby," and nearly two-thirds choose boys. Conservative critique: It's wrong to create children in "an intentionally motherless home." Clinic owner's spin: I'm ready to brave the controversy. Cynical view: Controversy is the owner's whole business strategy, which is why he's packaging gay parenthood with sex selection and delivering the issue to the religious right. (For Human Nature's take on this clinic's sex-selection business, click here. For the empty case against lesbian parenthood, click here.)

The Texas House voted overwhelmingly to repeal mandatory HPV vaccinations for sixth-grade girls. The vote was 119 to 21. Nearly every member of the state Senate has asked the Republican governor to void the order in which he mandated the vaccinations, so a veto of the repeal would almost certainly be overturned. Repealers' arguments: 1) This is the first vaccine mandated for a disease that's sexually transmitted, not "communicable." 2) It's the first vaccine mandated for just one sex. 3) Let parents decide whether to vaccinate their daughters. 4) Let legislators decide whether to mandate vaccinations. Vaccine defenders' arguments: 1) When 80 percent of women get HPV, that qualifies as a communicable disease. 2) We support mandating the vaccine for boys once the FDA approves it for that purpose. Governor's argument: I'm "on the side of protecting life." (For previous updates on HPV, click here, here, and here.)

Legislators are cracking down on texting while driving. An insurance-industry study says 19 percent of drivers text while operating their vehicles. Four states and D.C. ban cell-phone use while driving; 38 states are considering other regulations, with fines ranging up to $720. Chief promoter of regulation: insurers. Chief opponent: wireless carriers. Argument against regulation: Texting causes fewer accidents than other activities do, such as eating. Argument for regulation: Texting, unlike eating, is increasing. (For previous updates on cell-phone use while driving, click here and here. For bans on cell-phone use while crossing the street, click here.)

Fat men are 42 percent less likely to commit suicide than thin men are. Theories: 1) Fat men have more insulin, which means more serotonin, which means less depression, which means less suicide. 2) Severe depression makes you thinner before it makes you kill yourself. 3) Depressed people overeat in part to self-medicate, and it works … 4) until the eating itself kills you. Researchers' caveat: "Obesity cannot be recommended on the basis of its detrimentaleffects." (For Human Nature's takes on obesity and health, click here and here.)

New Mexico became the 49th state to ban cockfighting. The sport, in which roosters armed with claw razors fight to the death or until one is seriously wounded, is now illegal everywhere but Louisiana. Banners' arguments: 1) "The deliberate killing of animals for entertainment and profit is no longer acceptable." 2) It promotes gambling. 3) It's against Catholic teaching. Defenders' arguments: 1) For Latinos, "It's part of our culture." 2) It's a "family activity." 3) A ban will just "push cockfighting underground like it did for dog fighting." 4) "What's next? A ban on rodeos? Then hunting and fishing?" 5) "Jesus never said cockfighting was a sin." (For Human Nature's take on the evils of eating meat, click here.)

Indian men are using sperm banks to delay parenthood till their careers are secure. Delhi's sperm bank was set up for cancer patients, but most of its samples are now from young, healthy men. Interpretations: 1) Economic growth has increased job demands and stress, forcing men to delay parenthood. 2) Technology has liberated men, allowing them to delay parenthood. 3) Men, like women, are becoming knowledgeable and conscientious about their biological clocks. 4) Men, like women, are becoming obsessive and tortured about their biological clocks. (For a previous update on the male biological clock, click here. For freezing sperm to create children after your death, click here.)

Housing data and anecdotes suggest more married couples are sleeping apart. Some builders say more than 25 percent of their projects have two master bedrooms; a construction survey predicts that in custom homes, the percentage will soon surpass 60. Explanations: 1) Spouses don't get along. 2) One doesn't want sex. 3) One snores. 4) One's a night person. 5) I can't stand how he tucks in the covers. 6) When the kids moved out, there were enough rooms for each of us to have a bedroom. 7) It's more private and romantic. 8) It's more erotic. 9) We still cuddle together. 10) Today's couples need more space. 11) Today's couples need more sleep. 12) Today's couples are so secure they don't need joint sleeping to validate their marriages. Cynical view: Today's couples are too vain, tortured, and clueless to realize that they want exactly the same separation as yesterday's couples, except that they can afford homes big enough to get it. (For a cheaper sexless alternative—putting a TV in your bedroom—click here.)

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) Real diets for real people.  2) Invasion of the naked body scanners. 3) The future of pain-beaming weapons. 4)  Gay sheep and human destiny. 5)  More on gay sheep. 6) The power to shrink human beings. 7) The first human embryo factory. 8) The bum rap on cloned food. 9) Lesbians of mass destruction.